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Sale and supply of goods: what to do if things go wrong
In the guide
This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives you important rights when you make a contract with a trader for the supply of goods, services and digital content.
Having a clear understanding of your rights is the first step to becoming a confident consumer. Knowing how to put that knowledge into practice when things go wrong is the next step.
This guide gives you an overview of the key rights you have when a trader supplies goods to you and a clear pathway to follow if you want to complain to the trader about those goods.
Sale and supply of goods: an overview of your rights
Before you approach a trader with a complaint about goods that have been supplied to you, know your rights and make sure you have a clear understanding of what you are entitled to and when you are entitled to it. The chart below gives you an at-a-glance view of your key rights and remedies when goods are not of satisfactory quality, not fit for a particular purpose, not as described and when they do not match a sample or model.
If you need it the 'Sale and supply of goods: your consumer rights' guide gives more in-depth information.
What to do if things go wrong
In most cases you will be satisfied with goods that have been supplied to you and will have no need to complain to the trader, but in the event of a problem follow the steps below:
- stop using the goods as soon as you are aware there is a problem
- find your proof of purchase, which will usually be your paper receipt, e-receipt or gift receipt, or your copy of the contract but it can also include your bank / credit card statement. You will need proof of purchase in the event that the trader asks you for evidence that they actually supplied the goods to you or that you received the goods as a gift
- for most contracts, the trader must give you certain important information about the goods, payment arrangements, delivery, their name and contact details, after-sales information and details of any complaints-handling policy they may have. If you receive this information, keep it in a safe place
- if the trader does not provide after-sales information or details of a complaints-handling policy you need to find out who to complain to. Check the trader's website, the receipt, the order form or the delivery note for details
- have all relevant documents as well as notes on your complaint to hand as the trader will ask you for your name and address, customer / order number, the date the goods were supplied and nature of your complaint
- if you complain in person, look for a dedicated customer service or refunds desk within the store. If the store does not have one, ask to speak to the manager or the person in charge. Make sure you ask for their name and contact details in case you need to speak to them again
- if you complain by phone, ring the dedicated customer services helpline number if there is one. Make sure you are given a complaint reference number. Alternatively ring the store or head office and ask to be transferred to someone who can help you. Ask for their name and contact details in case you need to speak to them again
- when you complain in person or by phone, it is advisable to follow-up with an email or letter to confirm the details of your complaint, which remedy you are seeking and to give a deadline for the trader to respond
- you can complain in writing. Find out who to contact beforehand to avoid your complaint being sent to the wrong person or office. You can attach copies of your paperwork to assist the trader to deal with your complaint. Obtain a certificate of posting for letters that you send or use recorded delivery so that you can track the date the letter was received. Look for an online complaint form on the trader's website that you can use. If you receive an automatic email acknowledgement of your complaint, keep it. The guide 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' includes template letters you can use
- use social media to make a complaint or report a concern; it may get a quick response
- keep a record of events: when you complained and to whom and what they said they could do and by when
- keep copies of letters and emails sent and received
- give the trader a reasonable opportunity to deal with your complaint
- you may need to provide evidence to the trader to back-up your complaint. This could be sending the trader copies of your documents (receipt, emails and letters) as well as anything you think will help demonstrate that the goods are faulty, such as photographs or videos. Remember that if you are seeking replacement goods or repair within the first six months from the date of supply, it is for the trader to prove that the goods were satisfactory when they were sold, not for you to prove they are faulty. This is called the 'reversed burden of proof'
- If the trader does not accept any of the evidence you have presented in support of your complaint and you remain in dispute, you may need to obtain an expert's opinion. The 'Getting evidence to prove your claim' guide gives more information on this
- the trader may respond with an offer of an alternative remedy, such as replacement instead of refund. You may wish to consider the offer but, if you are complaining within 30 days from the date the goods were supplied, you are entitled to your money back
- if your complaint is rejected, the remedy offered is not acceptable or if you do not receive a reply at all, send another letter or email; follow the complaint escalation process if there is one or complain to someone more senior within the store
- if the trader arranges for goods to be delivered to you, they are responsible for the goods until the point that you take possession of them. If the goods are damaged or lost in transit for example, you are entitled to a refund from the trader and not the carrier
- if you paid for the goods using finance arranged by the trader or if you paid using your credit card and the goods cost more than £100 but less than £30,000, the finance / credit card provider is as responsible as the trader if they are faulty. Write to or email the finance / credit card provider with details of your complaint. The 'Sale and supply of goods: your consumer rights' guide gives more information
- if you use a debit card to buy the goods or if you use a credit card and the price of the goods is less than £100 (your rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply) you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader's bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract (the goods were not delivered, are faulty or the trader has ceased trading, for example) you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card, whether internet transactions are covered and what the time limit is for making a claim
- if you enter into a contract because a trader misled you or used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. See the guide 'Misleading and aggressive practices: rights to redress' for more information
- check whether the trader is a member of a trade association or regulatory body. Some trade associations and regulatory bodies provide dispute resolution schemes as part of the service so if you have a complaint against one of their members, they can assist in resolving the problem. The 'Trade associations and regulatory bodies' guide gives more information
- use alternative dispute resolution as a way to resolve your complaint without going to court. As a last resort, you can take legal action against the trader in court. See 'Thinking of suing in court?' for more information on these options
Last reviewed / updated: October 2020
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.
For further information in England and Wales contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 2231133. In Scotland contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. Both provide free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.
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